“It is for sale, and at a good price for the right buyer. I would want it to go to someone who appreciated it.”
“Oh, I would only buy something I really admired myself. It’s a curious thing being a dealer: each purchase is a wrench because I only buy things I love, while at the same time knowing I’m going to have to let them go one day.”
“Don’t you keep any of your pieces?” Mel asked.
“Nope, I look on them all like children. I love them while they’re with me, but I have to let them go at some point because there are more beautiful things to acquire and I have my customers to please. It’s like that with us collectors, isn’t it, Makso?”
Mel’s employer nodded.
“Of course. We admire things of beauty, but in the end it is a business. Thank you for coming, Mr Peacock. Are you here on behalf of a buyer?”
“Yes, I am. A lady buyer from New York who shall remain anonymous, but who can afford the best. That’s why I’m so pleased to see you have a lady present tonight, and such a discerning one. I’m very interested to hear which pieces Miss Sanderson recommends.”
Mel felt a rush of heat to her cheeks betray her gratitude.
“Then I shall leave you in Ms Sanderson’s capable hands,” Makso replied with a smile. “I see another guest trying to attract my attention. You must excuse me.”
He made a small rigid bow and left.
Ryan beckoned to Severina as she went by with a tray, motioning her to top up their glasses.
“Thank you,” Mel said. “And thank you for putting me in such a good light with Makso.”
Mel hadn’t realised that in her anxiousness she had drained her champagne completely. Finally she was beginning to feel relaxed.
She even let herself look forward to the rest of the evening. There was to be a sit-down dinner and she hoped Ryan would stick by her.
In fact, he barely left her side as he shepherded her into the grand dining-room overlooking the garden. Candelabra crowded with candles dazzling to the eye had been placed at the table and in wall sconces.
Makso’s superb collection of portraits from different ages hung on the wall. He was the perfect host, making sure everyone was settled before announcing the fare.
“Severina and her son Mihovil have cooked us some very special Croatian dishes. We will start with the best-dressed lobster from Dalmatia, then there is a traditional wine and rabbit goulash served with sauerkraut and artichokes. My friends, raise your glasses and let us begin.”
It was only when the meal had finished and they had adjourned to the lounge for coffee and petit fours, that Mel noticed the door opening a crack and Hiroko creeping into the room like a shadow.
Immediately, Mel went over and smiled warmly.
“How lovely to see you, Hiroko. Can I get you a coffee?”
“Just a small one.” Hiroko’s voice was low and she looked down.
Mel noticed, too, how painfully slender she was, the bones sharp in her shoulders. She brought over a few of the tempting petit fours to try to encourage her to eat.
“You didn’t fancy dinner?”
“I couldn’t take all that polite conversation. I am not ready and I do not know these people. They are all strangers and my knowledge of ancient relics is very small. But the smell of coffee tempted me out of my room and Ivo is fast asleep. Stay with me, Mel.”
“Of course I will.”
“I am sad to tell you that we cannot go on our planned walk tomorrow.”